Flu Risks and Chronic Conditions

Path to better health

You should get the flu vaccine as soon as it is available each fall. You can also get it any time during flu season (usually until March). It is best to get it in the fall so the vaccine can protect you throughout the flu season (about 6 months). In the United States, flu activity peaks between December and February. The vaccine is available by injection or nasal spray (LAIV4). The CDC recommends that people with chronic illnesses get the flu vaccine, not the nasal spray vaccine.

The vaccine can reduce the chance of hospitalization by 37% and the risk of admission to the intensive care unit (ICU) by 82% for people suffering from chronic diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flu vaccines work by exposing your immune system to an inactive (killed) form of the flu virus. Your body will develop antibodies against the virus to protect you from getting the flu. The nasal spray vaccine contains active but weakened viruses. You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine or nasal spray vaccine.

If you are 65 or older, the CDC recommends that you get a high-dose flu vaccine, an adjuvanted flu vaccine, or a regular flu vaccine. High-dose, adjuvanted injections are designed especially for this age group.

Vaccine safety

The flu vaccine is safe. There are very few side effects. After you get the flu vaccine, your arm may hurt for a few days. You may have a low-grade fever, feel tired, or have muscle pain for a short time. If you received the nasal spray vaccine, you may have a runny nose, headache, cough, or sore throat. It is safe to get a flu shot at the same time as another vaccine at the same visit.

Where can I get a flu shot?

There are many places that offer flu shots. Where you decide to get your flu shot will likely depend on location and cost.

Flu shots are available from your primary care doctor, national pharmacies (such as CVS and Walgreens), clinics, community health centers, urgent care centers, public health departments, universities (free for students), some employers and more.

The cost of the flu vaccine ranges from free to about $50, depending on whether you have insurance (private insurance, Affordable Care Act, Medicare Part B). If you have insurance, most of the places listed above will offer the flu vaccine at no cost to you.

If you don’t have insurance, look for places that offer discounted flu shots. Many national pharmacies offer coupons or other discounts for flu shots. Prices vary widely, so shop around. It can mean paying $19 or more than double that. Also look for coupons online or look for cost comparisons at GoodRx. Also, be prepared to pay up front before receiving the flu vaccine.

If you need help determining where to find a flu vaccine near you, there are online tools that can help. try to look vaccines.gov either Vaccine Finder. Both use zip codes to help you narrow your search.

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